U.S. Soccer Federation Goes To Great Lengths To Ensure Support For World Cup Team
The U.S. men’s national soccer team's play on the field may be the primary driver of unprecedented American fan interest in this FIFA World Cup, but headed into today's Round of 16 match against Belgium, the U.S. Soccer Federation and its partners have played a significant role in seeding widespread support for the U.S. side and growing it during the team's current run. USSF Senior Manager of Communications Neil Buethe said, “We looked at how we handled things in the past and said, ‘We need a more coordinated campaign across all our platforms.’ It’s taken off and been a great campaign.”
ONE NATION. ONE TEAM: U.S. Soccer last fall brought together in Chicago its creative agency, Stone Ward, and its PR agency, FleishmanHillard. The goal was to develop a slogan that could be used throughout the World Cup. During the ‘10 World Cup in South Africa, U.S. Soccer used the slogan “The Yanks Are Coming. Are You?” It was a call-to-action campaign, encouraging fans to travel to South Africa and follow the team from afar. But this time, the goal was different. Stone Ward Dir Of Brand Management Tom Lillig said, “We wanted to focus on giving U.S. Soccer a message that could bring the country together around the team. It needed to articulate unity, support and patriotic passion without going over the top with red-white-and-blue bravado. It needed to be inclusive for hardcore fans and new fans ready to jump on the bandwagon. It had to work for fans, players and even the President of the United States.” The result was “One nation. One team.” It not only hit on the patriotic passion that Lillig wanted to capture, it also reflected the attitude of U.S. coach Jurgen Klinsmann, who has a singular focus on putting together a team with the right chemistry. Buethe said, “It really connects the players and Jurgen and his staff with his fanbase.” The slogan has been used in all of U.S. Soccer’s digital and social marketing efforts. The USSF and Fleishman have tried to keep it relevant by creating additional slogans for each match that they could hashtag in social media.
* Ghana match: "One nation. One team."
* Portugal match: "See you Sunday."
* Germany match: "Let’s do this."
* Belgium match: "Are you ready?"
Fleishman Senior VP Jim Woodcock said, “It’s something engaging and simple. We’re not coming up with the most clever lines in the history of marketing, but we’re trying to come up with lines where everybody feels the same, including the players.”
ALL-CELEBRITY ROSTER: U.S. Soccer and Fleishman began building a roster of pro athletes and celebrities they thought had an interest in soccer following the '10 World Cup. In the run-up to Brazil and throughout the past few weeks, they have reached out to celebrities, talent agents, leagues, teams and athletes to gauge their interest in supporting the U.S. team. A meeting with Twitter led the USSF to create “digital jerseys,” images of the U.S. men’s national team’s red-white-and-blue jersey that could feature the name of an athlete or celebrity on the back and be tweeted along with the “One team. One nation” slogan. It sent those digital jerseys to a host of influencers, including 60 NFL players that it worked with the NFLPA to identify. A number of those players, including Lions RB Reggie Bush, tweeted the jerseys out ahead of the U.S.-Ghana game. Also receiving them were influential members of the media, like ESPN’s Adam Schefter, who has 3 million Twitter followers, and he turned it into his Twitter avatar. In addition to that, the USSF shipped real jerseys to a host of influencers it identified as soccer fans. One of those was actor Josh Duhamel, who tweeted an image of himself and his 10-month old son in U.S. jerseys that was picked up in the L.A. Times and other outlets. U.S. jerseys also were shipped to more than 25 MLB players. Perhaps none of the jerseys got more exposure than the one sent to Giants P Tim Lincecum. After he pitched a no-hitter last week, he took off his Giants jersey and put on the U.S. jersey. Photos of him after the game showed him in that jersey in local and national news outlets.
SCARVES FOR ALL: More U.S. residents bought tickets for Brazil than any previous World Cup. More than 200,000 tickets were purchased, according to FIFA. USSF execs recognized the surge in interest and wanted to reward fans of the U.S. national team that traveled to Brazil. They contacted FIFA and asked for a list of people who purchased U.S. national team tickets. They then distributed special scarves featuring the “One nation. One team.” slogan to those fans. U.S. Soccer also wanted to connect with fans that traveled to Brazil, so for the first time in its World Cup history, the USSF created viewing parties for fans in Brazil. It has hosted four parties in each of the five cities hosting U.S. matches. More than 7,500 people attended. Buethe said, “We knew we wanted to connect with people back in the States, but we thought, ‘How do we connect with people who take vacation and come here? That’s where the idea for the viewing parties came together.”
GET OUT OF WORK: Ahead of last week’s game against Germany, the USSF wanted to encourage people across the country to take time off and watch. The idea was that if there was anyone who could provide that type of authority, it was Klinsmann. Lillig said, “It seemed like an amazing idea." Stone Ward drafted a letter and Klinsmann’s signature was attached to it. The letter was posted on Facebook and Twitter. The N.Y. Daily News took note and put it on the cover of the paper. On Facebook, it had an organic reach of 36 million and 12.2 million impressions. On Twitter, it had 2.5 million impressions, according to Stone Ward. Lillig said, “This thing caught fire. It was the hottest thing and was picked up by just about every media source. Even Gov. Cuomo in New York authorized an extra hour of lunch that day.”
TWO-WAY CONVERSATION: U.S. Soccer did not just want to speak at fans through social media, it also wanted to listen to them. In the lead up to the World Cup and after the tournament began, it gathered comments from fans and social media and put those comments up in the U.S, national team locker room and in other places, like the national team hotel. It even took a message from a fan and ironed it into the jerseys the team wore against Germany. For example, when the U.S. team played a final tune-up at EverBank Field against Nigeria on June 7, U.S. Soccer placed a fan quote from Margeux Mange on a large banner outside the stadium: “You men of the U.S. National Team are creating dreams that so many kids and young adults will aspire to achieve. Play with courage. Represent with pride.” For the June 22 match against Portugal, the crests inside the U.S. team's jersey featured a quote from Joel Humowiecki: "The American will to win is stronger than any opponent in your way."
Staff Writer Preston Bounds contributed to this story